By John Hughes – AIM London
London, 9 Mar (AIM) – The latest sensation in artificial intelligence is the advanced online language model ChatGPT which, it is claimed, can not only analyse data but actually create new content.
You simply type in your question and within seconds the chatbot provides the answer. Meanwhile, the software industry’s two behemoths, Microsoft and Google, are frantically trying to get their chatbots beyond the development stage and into the public arena.
I thought that I would give ChatGPT the opportunity to solve the mystery of the plane crash on the night of 19 October 1986 in which Mozambique’s first president Samora Machel and 33 others met their deaths. I asked ChatGPT to write 100 words on the death of Samora Machel and it instantly replied “Samora Machel was a Mozambican revolutionary and politician who served as the country’s first president from 1975 until his death in 1986. Machel was a key figure in the struggle for Mozambique’s independence from Portuguese colonial rule and led the country’s socialist government after independence. On October 19, 1986, Machel died in a plane crash while returning to Mozambique from a meeting in Zambia. His death was a major blow to Mozambique and the wider liberation movement in Africa. Machel was widely mourned across the continent and his legacy as a revolutionary and champion of social justice continues to inspire people around the world”.
I pushed further, asking what was the cause of the crash? “One theory that gained traction in the aftermath of the crash was that it was a deliberate act of sabotage by the South African government, which was deeply hostile to Machel and his socialist government. At the time, South Africa was engaged in a brutal and protracted conflict with anti-apartheid forces in neighbouring countries, including Mozambique. The South African government had reportedly launched a number of covert operations against Machel’s government, including support for armed opposition groups and the use of hit squads to assassinate key figures in the government”.
It added, “supporters of the sabotage theory point to a number of suspicious details surrounding the crash, including the fact that the plane’s navigational equipment was not working properly and that it was flying off course. Some have also pointed to the presence of a mysterious white aircraft near the crash site, which some witnesses claim was seen in the vicinity of the Tupolev just before it crashed. The South African government has denied any involvement in the crash and no concrete evidence has been presented to support the sabotage theory”.
As someone who has followed the story closely, I was surprised to read of a “mysterious white aircraft”. This has never been mentioned in anything that I have read. So I asked for more information to which the chatbot replied: “the presence of a mysterious white aircraft near the crash site of Samora Machel’s plane has been a subject of controversy and speculation since the incident occurred in 1986. According to some eyewitness accounts, a white aircraft was seen in the vicinity of the Tupolev Tu-134 just before it crashed in the Lebombo Mountains, near the Mozambique-South Africa border”.
It added: “supporters of the theory that the crash was a deliberate act of sabotage by the South African government have pointed to the presence of the white aircraft as evidence of their involvement. They have suggested that the aircraft may have been a South African military plane, which was monitoring the Tupolev and possibly even interfering with its navigation equipment. This theory has been fuelled by allegations of South African involvement in other acts of sabotage and assassination against anti-apartheid leaders and governments in neighbouring countries. However, there are also some doubts and inconsistencies surrounding the eyewitness accounts of the white aircraft. Some witnesses have described it as a military plane with markings on the tail, while others have simply described it as a white aircraft with no markings. The South African government has denied any involvement in the crash and has dismissed the idea of a white aircraft as a ‘figment of people’s imagination’.
I asked ChatGPT for its sources and it gave, among others, William Minter’s book “Apartheid’s Contras: An Inquiry into the Roots of War in Angola and Mozambique’ which it states, “also discusses the presence of the white aircraft and the controversy surrounding it”. Now, I have Bill’s book and I can say for a fact that it does not discuss the air crash and in particular does not mention a “white aircraft”.
As for the other sources, it is next to impossible to trace them. For example, ‘The Life and Death of Samora Machel,’ a book by the well-known academic Professor Bernard Magubane, is said to include “an account of the white aircraft from one of the eyewitnesses”. I cannot find any information on the existence of this book, and ChatGPT gives false International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN).
I tried another of ChatGPT’s sources, asking “where can I find ‘The Assassination of Samora Machel: Who Benefits? – a report by the Mozambican government’s inquiry commission into the crash’”. Bizarrely, the first source mentioned is AIM Reports, a fortnightly publication that I have edited since 1994 and I can assure the reader that this has never been mentioned on our website. In addition, the link to our website is not in a format that has ever existed. The rest of the sources given have web links that are all either redundant or have never existed.
I can only conclude that for all the hype ChatGPT resembles a schoolchild bluffing their way through an essay set for homework. Perhaps it has got the wrong end of the stick. A mysterious white aircraft was spotted by witnesses of an alleged assassination – but it was not connected with Samora Machel’s death but that of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in a plane crash in 1961. Either that or the chatbot made up the information and the sources that back up its “research”.
This is a salutary experience that shows the weakness of those who urge others to “DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH”. Yes, we should not accept everything we read but we should base our independent research on verified expert sources.
The mystery surrounding the death of Samora Machel remains unsolved.